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When will he convert awards into cash?

Pedroia adds MVP to his trophy haul

By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / November 19, 2008
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First two years in the bigs, Rookie of the Year and MVP.

Where do you go from here if you're Dustin Pedroia and the Red Sox?

The Sox don't think the hardware changes anything about their contractual approach to Pedroia. The new American League MVP will not be arbitration-eligible until after next season. That's when the big money could begin. And there's no reason to think Pedroia has hit his apex yet.

The Phillies found themselves in the same situation with Ryan Howard, who started his career with a Rookie of the Year (2005), followed by an MVP (2006). Howard, of course, is a behemoth power hitter, 6 feet 4 inches and listed at 245 pounds, give or take 20. Pedroia is about half his size. In Howard's MVP season, he swatted 58 homers and knocked in 149 runs to go along with a .313 average and a .425 on-base percentage. Pedroia's MVP numbers (.326, 17, 83) reflect that he's a second baseman, and he'll likely never cost the Red Sox as much as Howard will cost the Phillies.

The Phillies have so far elected to let Howard play out his arbitration years, though a multiyear extension might be hashed out this offseason.

After winning the MVP Award, Howard received a $900,000 deal for the 2007 season, which was the largest sum ever paid for a player not eligible for arbitration. Last offseason, Howard won his arbitration case, getting his $10 million instead of the $7 million offered by the Phillies.

Sox general manager Theo Epstein said last night the team is considering long-term deals for its younger players, but wouldn't specify whether Pedroia was in the mix, though team sources indicate he is. But don't be surprised if a long-term deal fails to materialize.

The Sox realized by the middle of September that Pedroia could win the MVP Award, so they've been preparing for whatever negotiation leverage comes with that.

Pedroia's agent certainly can go into any negotiations with a bit more confidence, but the Sox will go about their business the same way. They aren't against long-term deals for young, controllable players as long as the numbers make sense to them.

In other words, they'd do it if the long-term numbers wind up favoring the team - just as Evan Longoria's potential nine-year deal with Tampa Bay (which includes three option years) favors the Rays. But the Sox aren't afraid to go year to year with the probability they'll have to pay out more money just before free agency if they decide they want to keep the player.

The Sox will always pay - and even overpay - for production, and Pedroia, who continually overcomes his size issues and keeps making himself better, should cash in on his success sooner rather than later.

After all, he loves to play with a chip on his shoulder.

Pedroia has kept track of the people who doubted his ability over the years and uses their words as motivation. Even Epstein said last night that Pedroia will probably always hear the voice of some scout who believes he can't play in the big leagues or remember the many teams who wouldn't select him in the first round.

Who knows if he'll use the motivation of not getting a long-term contract to continue to prove he should get one? The Sox would love that motivation. But motivation should never be a problem because Pedroia loves to compete.

"When the game is on the line, he's a better player," said manager Terry Francona on a conference call last night.

Francona said he's already hearing that Pedroia is angry over the Sox not making it to the World Series and is itching to kick someone's behind.

One of the most amazing things about Pedroia's season - and a testament to his on-field presence - was when he hit cleanup for five games.

Pedroia hitting cleanup? Are you kidding? That was what Pedroia and Francona heard. The response? Try 12 for 18 (.667), two homers, and seven RBIs.

Clearly, he's a No. 2 hitter, which is where the Red Sox would prefer to use him going forward. In 132 games from the second hole, Pedroia hit .331. He has excellent bat control and is very hard to pitch to because he seems to catch up to fastballs everywhere around the plate. He can frustrate even the best pitchers with his tedious at-bats.

As Toronto's great righthander, Roy Halladay, said, "You can plan on a long inning when he's up. He wears you out."

When Pedroia reached base his first 11 times up in a late August series against the White Sox (batting cleanup in the first two games), Chicago manager Ozzie Guillen paid Pedroia one of the greatest compliments when he said, "I never thought I'd walk a jockey. I must be the worst manager ever in the history of baseball right now, walking a guy that just came from being on top of Big Brown to beat the White Sox."

Earlier in the series, Guillen had said, "Right now, he's on a roll. I get opportunities to walk him to face Big Papi, I will do it, whoever hits in front of him. This guy right now is on fire. No matter what you throw, he's going to get it."

So Pedroia should have no fear about being a very well-paid player going forth. The Rookie of the Year and MVP awards have almost ensured that.

It's only a matter of when.

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